For Ben Silesky, change is not something that happens on its own. He quotes President Barack Obama campaign’s slogan, saying that it applies to CarbonWA’s initiatives: “We believe we are the ones we have been waiting for.”
“We can’t rely any longer on elected officials to do what is necessary in a timely and effective manner,” Silesky says. “It’s obviously our generation that is going to inherit this future that we’re going to be talking about.”
On April 16, Silesky spoke in Demaray Hall 150 as a representative of CarbonWA, a grassroots organization promoting carbon taxing initiatives and informing the public on issues surrounding revenue neutral carbon taxing. Seattle Pacific’s Political Union club hosted the lecture. Andrew Bell, president of Political Union, says the club hosted a CarbonWA speaker to “round out the political spectrum” represented at SPU.
“[It’s] really important to provide people with lots of information so they can make up their own minds,” Bell says. “I think it provided a side to the environmental debate that we don’t often see, which is a pro-economy, pro-environment approach to environmental policy.”
Silesky highlighted the economic part of the initiative by explaining the “revenue neutral” component of the carbon tax.
“All revenue neutral means is that you use the revenue made from carbon tax…for limiting existing taxes,” Silesky says.
Silesky also discussed his organization’s plans to push an initiative supporting this tax on the Washington state ballot in 2016.
“This is definitely not a climate issue. This is, ‘are we going to have food, are we going to have water?’ This is a survival issue,” Silesky says. “Most of all, it’s a justice issue.”
Silesky used the effectiveness of carbon taxing in British Columbia as an example, noting that the province enacted revenue neutral carbon taxing in 2008.
“So yes, British Columbia does pay about 30 cents extra for gasoline, but they also have the lowest personal and corporate income taxes in North America,” Silesky says. “They even have an offset for low income families.”
While carbon emissions in British Columbia are down by 16 percent, Silesky says that emissions in the rest of Canada have increased by 3 percent. For Silesky, this shows just how effective the tax is at lowering emissions.
“That whole economy versus environment dichotomy, it’s completely false and this real world example shows it,” Silesky says.
Caleb Henry, associate professor of political science at SPU, generally agrees with the initiative and says its effects are clear.
“The one thing that would definitely be clear is…you would have a shift away from less efficient forms of production to more efficient forms of production,” Henry says. “I think that that’s what the carbon tax would be intended to produce. So you would have a smaller carbon footprint that people would voluntarily choose…”
Henry says the tax would appeal to numerous groups.
“Politically, the advantage of carbon taxing would be that it, in many ways, appeals to several different bases, particularly for the environmentalists, the desire to lower income taxes,” Henry says. “[And] a lot of economists like it because it sort of shifts taxes away from income to consumption, so it’s actually going to improve the economy in the long run.”
However, Henry explains there are reasons the tax has not passed easily, such as the idea a carbon tax appears regressive.
“A lot of progressives would be concerned that if you shift taxes away from income to consumption, it could be viewed as a regressive tax,” Henry says. “Which usually is why every plan that’s been set up, especially at a national level, they usually try to alter [or] sort of shift it to money that goes specifically to the poor, as a way of offsetting that regressive taxation.”
Professor of Geography Kathleen Braden, who teaches a course on environmental policy, is more skeptical.
Though she admires California’s carbon tax, she does not think that focusing on states in a singular manner is the most effective route.
Referring to Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s recent attempts to promote carbon taxing, Braden says, “I think Governor Inslee is trying to do the right thing at the state level when the response should really be at the federal level…I think it should be done at a wider geographic level than in one state.”
But according to Braden, the nation isn’t prepared for carbon taxing.
“If you want to participate in society the way it is now, you use fossil fuels, whether you like it or not,” Braden says.
If anything, Braden says that a more effective initiative would be turning away from taxation entirely while taking money out of politics to fund environmental initiatives.
Silesky says that a positive aspect of the carbon tax initiative is that it plays an offensive or active role rather than a defensive one.
“[Aiding CarbonWA] is a real opportunity to do something between now and the summer that is quantifiable and consequential,” Silesky says.